HOUSTON – Jo Cross stopped to get a Chickasaw Journal newspaper and spotted smoke coming from the roof of Aaron’s Cleaner.
“I ran across the street to the fire department and they were gone on a call,” said Cross. “That’s when I called 911.”
Firefighters returning from a medical run north of town turned the corner on the Square in Houston and quickly rolled out hoses and attacked the blaze at 227 East Madison.
“We don’t know at this time what caused the fire, but when we got in the front door it appeared to be in the front of the building,” said Captain Jonathan Blankenship, of the Houston Fire Department. “When our volunteers rolled up the door at the back they were confronted with about 30, five-gallon buckets of cleaning fluid.”
Cleaning fluid or Tetrachloroethylene is non-flammable but does give off toxic fumes. The chemical is also heavier than water and quickly seeps into the ground, clothing and skin.
“There was a lot of flame from all the clothes that were on fire,” said Blankenship. “We saved the building but the entire content was ruined by fire, smoke and water damage.”
Smoke from the fire blanketed downtown Houston and forced Houston policemen to close Highway 8 and route traffic around the block.
Firefighters were on the scene more than three hours.
Blankenship said firefighters were hampered by a tongue-and-groove double ceiling. Fire in that space prompted the department climb onto the building and cut a hole in the roof to put out the blaze.
The nail salon on the east side of the building suffered smoke damage. The Chickasaw Journal, on the west side of the fire also suffered smoke damage.
“We had a good response from our volunteers and I’m very glad the cleaning fluid didn’t give us any problem and no one was hurt,” said Blankenship. “I’m also glad we were able to contain the fire to the dry cleaners.”
The fire was reported about 7:30 p.m., and firefighters were on the scene until after 10:30 wetting down hot spots and making sure the fire did not re-ignite.